(Once more, for old times' sake. Thanks to Marigold for the emergency beta.)

Lesson 4.1: Hobbit Customs and Celebrations

Pippin says, tugging at my cloak as he trots along beside me, Boromir, Strider says it is your birthday.

I chuckle, wondering where Aragorn has come across that bit of information. Yes, it is, I tell the hobbit, but I'm afraid I haven't any cake to share with all of you.

Pippin smiles up at me. Happy birthday, Boromir, he says sincerely. Don't worry about the cake.

Thank you, Pippin, I answer, and lay a hand briefly on his curly head. And you should not worry about a present.

Pippin asks, looking visibly startled. Do you have some for us?

I ask, puzzled.

Pippin says patiently. For the rest of us. Because it's your birthday.

I stare at him. Presents for you? I respond. Shouldn't you have presents for me?

Whatever for? Pippin demands, wrinkling up his nose. It's your birthday, you're the one who should have presents for the rest of us.

two voices call at once, and I suddenly realize that everyone else is most certainly listening to this strange conversation. Well, at least Merry and Frodo are, and now they have paused to wait for us.

Peregrin Took, Frodo says in a reprimanding voice when we reach them, while Merry looks up at me and says, Dreadfully sorry, Boromir. No one expects you to have presents for us way out here in the middle of nowhere.

He brought it up! Pippin protests. I wasn't going to say anything about presents at all, I was just going to say happy birthday, but now he says we're supposed to give him presents. On his birthday! He is bristling with indignation.

Merry asks, and eyes me suspiciously. Why would you expect presents on your birthday, Boromir?

Is that not your custom? I ask. To give a person presents on his birthday?

Now Frodo has begun to laugh. he says, though I can see it is your custom. No, hobbits give away presents on their birthdays.

You mean you receive presents on your birthday? Merry says, and when I nod, he adds, Well, that's just bollocks.

Frodo says, and Sam, just joining us with his faithful Bill, chokes back a laugh. Pippin ignores them and gives me a pitying look.

So you only get birthday presents once a year? he asks. Boromir, that's dreadful! Why, back home I think I get at least three presents a week. I can't imagine going a whole year between presents!

And how do you remember when everyone's birthday is? Frodo asks (though not before delivering a soft smack to the back of Merry's head). I mean, one never forgets one's own birthday, but if you were expected to give other people presents on their birthday -- well, those are a lot of birthdays to remember.

A lot of birthdays for Sam to remember, you mean, Merry mutters.

You've got that right, Sam agrees with a sigh.

Frodo squawks. I don't need Sam to remember everything for me, thank you very much.

Pippin says with the exasperated air of the long-suffering, last winter when Sam went to visit his sister Daisy you forgot to light the fire under that stew, and then you forgot to put your letters in the Post the whole time he was gone and wondered why no one was answering you.

And you completely forgot about Cousin Pansy's wedding, Merry adds. You'd gone off walking in the Northfarthing and not only didn't attend, you didn't send a gift or a letter or anything at all, after you'd promised her you would be there.

Didn't know about that one, Sam says, and then, when everyone looks at him, clarifies, The wedding, I mean, else I would have sent him along to Buckland like he should have done. Don't believe he ever told me when the date was.

I suppose I must have -- forgot, Frodo says, nearly choking on the last word, The tips of his ears are flushing red, and his cousins laugh with glee. Even Sam looks a little amused.

Pippin giggles, do you remember when he left me at the market?

Oh, yes! Merry says. 'Where's our little Pippin?' Bilbo asks him, and there's Frodo, looking all around like he might have stuck you in a pocket and just didn't know which one. And then leaving me and Berilac behind at the Fair that year!

When the two of you talked your way into the Dog and Badger! Pippin answers, now clutching his sides with laughter. Uncle Saradoc made him pay the whole bill!

All right, all right! exclaims Frodo, now completely red-faced. I may be a little forgetful at times. But I am a very important hobbit and have many pressing things to attend to.

Such as what? Merry gasps, laughing nearly as hard as Pippin, who seems quite beyond speech.

Like wishing our new friend Boromir a very happy birthday, Frodo says, and turns to bow graciously to me. May you celebrate many more in better company than that of my ill-behaved cousins.

I have managed not to laugh throughout the recitation of Frodo's past mishaps, but I cannot keep the smile from my face. Truly, Frodo, I cannot recall ever having a merrier birthday than this, I answer, and cannot resist adding, And my memory seems much better than some I could name.

Pippin falls over, squealing with laughter, and Merry looks ready to burst in two with delight. Even Sam casts me a quick, amused grin. Frodo, though, merely bows again, a small smile on his lips.

I would hold that comment against you, Boromir, save that I shall not recollect it momentarily, he says, and now Merry falls over as well.

Aragorn calls from in front of us. Stop making the hobbits fall over or we won't be able to make camp early enough for your party!

As I haul Merry and Pippin to their feet and encourage them to pick up their pace, I wonder how I have survived all these years with such backwards birthday traditions. I shall be certain to rectify the situation once I am back in Gondor.